When I was a student (because only students eat souvlakis) I was in the habit of crossing five suburbs to Twins, on the corner of Elgin and Lygon streets, for what were the best souvlakis in Melbourne. Soft, fresh pita were jammed with juicy lamb drowned in yogurt and lemon juice and served in a greaseproof-lined brown bag that collected all the lemony, garlicky juices in the bottom. Slurp. On one return trip, the exhaust manifold came away from the engine. English cars are great until they break.
Navy blue 1964 Morris Minor Traveller (the wood-panelled estate)
I used to drive to Ballarat for hamburgers. It was a small shop on the Melbourne side of town on the north side of Victoria Street opposite one of the old churches. The burgers must have been good, because it was a three-hour round trip. The crazy things you do in your early twenties, but it was a fun car to drive.
White 1965 Ford Falcon XP
Lebanese: Russell Street
In the old days Lebanese House in Russell Street was the only place in Melbourne to go for kebbeh and moughrabia. Literally. Then Abla opened just up the road, and suddenly lovers of food of the western Levant were spoiled for choice. The foodies trooped off to Abla’s, while the public servants, the arabs, the students and I stayed with LH for its homeland-style meals, unaffected service and the giant mural of a camel casting a long moon shadow across a wadi. Oddly enough, I always got a park out the front. Couldn’t do that now.
Mushroom 1965 Humber Super Snipe Series V
Italian: Moonee Ponds
Years ago I was a drinks waiter (before they invented the sommelier) at a Ballarat Road Sunshine reception centre. It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. Every shift was like running a marathon. Most of the patrons were non-paying wedding guests and drank their weight in alcohol, and the place was about the size of the Flinders Street rail yards. I’d just about walk halfway back to Footscray doing one tray circuit around the Opal Room. At the end of the night, I'd detour via Moonee Ponds for a late wind-down dinner at Carosello, usually a massive bowl of spaghetti napoli eaten while reading the late edition – Last Race, All Sport - of the Saturday Herald, Melbourne’s best broadsheet. Being super-reliable, the car always got me safely out of Sunshine. No wonder I stuck with Volvos.
Yellow 1974 Volvo 144GT
Cabbage soup: Acland Street
Such a simple thing, but for this I would cross town to Scheherezade.
1976 Volvo 244 GL Executive
How difficult is it to bake a scone? I used to catch the tram into town and down St Kilda Road, and then wander through sweeping lawns, mature trees and overhanging gardens in the Royal Botanic Gardens to the lakeside café for scones with jam and cream, and tea. If civilisation reached its zenith with Devonshire tea, taking it in the Botanic Gardens overlooking the ornamental lake through floor-to-ceiling glass took it even higher.
Toorak No 8 tram
Chinese: St Kilda
I used to frequent Fairy Stork for Melbourne’s best old-school Chinese including scallops in ginger, onion and garlic sauce. But tastes change. Fairy Stork is long gone and the new wave of fast, fresh, cheap Asian eating houses - such as those along Swanston Street or High Street Preston - probably spells the end of the remaining gilt-décor Chinese places. I visited one recently and it was overpriced, stuffy, slow and served very ordinary food, while the dynasty-like pecking order of waiters made ordering difficult. Who could be bothered? And those lazy susan spinning things are ridiculous.
Metallic burgundy 1980 Datsun 280ZX
French: Rathdowne Street
Bullfrog was a raffish French bistro with dark nooks and corners, bare candles on timber tables, a man playing annoying French tunes on a violin in the corner, old black and white prints of Paris on the walls and the full-on pre-'nouvelle cuisine' French menu. The place was a favourite with beret-wearing Australian academics. Some even brought Le Monde with them. Some even read it. The escargots came in tiny individual earthenware pots filled with bubbling butter and garlic, and you would stink of garlic for days afterwards. The steak roquefort was topped with the genuine item - half an inch thick - before its importation was banned into Australia – with impossibly thin frites on the side. Dessert was a magnificent creation called Coupe Mont Blanc, a kind of chestnut puree topped with cream snow. The wine was cheap, and the bus stopped at the door.
No 253 Rathdowne Street bus